New mental health curriculum in Ontario

The Ontario government is introducing a new mandatory mental health-focused curriculum for students.

New learning materials will be available in Grade 7 and 8 classrooms, along with a mental health literacy addition to the Grade 10 careers’ curriculum, the government announced Monday.

The elementary school modules will align with the health and physical education curriculum, offering tools on how to manage stress, recognize mental health concerns and stigmas, and learn how to get help, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said.

“The mission is to create a personal toolbox of skills that a young person can utilize in their life, in their jobs and in the classroom,” Lecce said on Monday. The resources are being developed with the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, he added.

These changes will enter Grade 7 and 8 classrooms in September, while the high school curriculum won’t transition until the fall of 2024.

The careers course will include how to recognize signs of being overwhelmed or struggling, as well as where to find help locally when needed.

‘A NORMAL HEALTHY TEEN’

Almost six years ago, MPP Natalie Pierre’s 17-year-old son took his own life.

“Just like any other student, the day before he died, he took a university campus tour. He worked a few hours at his part time job, and he got together with friends,” Pierre said at the news conference on Monday.

“Anyone seeing him would have observed a normal healthy teenager. But we know now that was not the case.”

A survey released in February found about 91 per cent of school principals reported needing some or a lot of support for students’ mental health and well-being.

The report, conducted by the non-profit People for Education (PFE), also suggested that there is a lack of resources to respond to the mental health crisis in the classroom.

After her son died, Pierre made it his personal mission to advocate for mental health education in the classroom.

“Our approach is proactive, practical and evidence-based. It reaches students where they’re at and at a time in their lives when mental health issues often arise. It’s my hope that this will prevent tragedies like the one we and many other families have experienced,” Pierre said.

Taking questions after the announcement, Lecce said the government is looking into whether the province will introduce mental health days, evaluating the “intended and unintended consequences” of introducing these absences.

The government is also announcing an additional $12 million this year and $14 million next year for mental health services over the summer months, including access to mental health professionals and services year-round.

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